There’s stacks to unpack from the list of good and bad husbands and wives that a Tanzanian friend posted in a whatsapp group recently. I will only make two observations here, one about the husband list and one about the wife list.
Husbands: economic care must include the emotional
My first thought is that the description of a good husband is kind of vague, especially in contrast to the detailed list of lesser husbands. Everyone can identify a bad husband, but tying down what a good husband looks like is more elusive.
Many of the ‘bad husband’ descriptions have something to do with not providing for your wife, and not being emotionally engaged with her, so you’d think the ‘husband material’ description would say something about these. However, while the description of a good husband includes references to his care for his wife, it does not say that he must be a good provider. What matters is that he wants to provide, not his actual ability to do so.
That goes against traditional concepts of masculinity, but it’s understandable. At one level, this is just saying that you can be poor and still be a good husband. It is your circumstances that mean you can’t provide, and poverty is not an indication of a lack of care for one’s wife.
Nevertheless many middle-class men consider mere desire to provide insufficient. One friend said to me, how can you say you care for your wife if you cannot provide? He was not contesting the importance of emotional connection; he’s asking how you can have it without material provision as well. He saw the two as inseparable. The emotional must have practical expression.
Instead, they prefer to add in the emotional. The guy who shared this list lives in Dar, but his wife and children live in a town four hours away, and that is not an uncommon arrangement. With his physical absence so that he can provide, he is still a good husband under this definition, because his absence is motivated by his concern for his wife and children, and they do their best to stay connected with one another, with regular phone calls and social media use, and traveling on the weekend to spend time together.
Wives: emotional care includes the economic
All of this takes place within a patriarchal context. We read in the description of a good wife of her being a ‘helper’; there are mentions of respecting her husband; there is the implication that he gives her money to be used in the home; she is entrusted with his authority at various points, but it is still derived from him. Likewise there is the assumption that women are more nurturing and have greater affinity for love, understanding, and perhaps spirituality.
Yet, it would be inaccurate to read this as translating into weakness or passivity. A good wife is characterised by courage and confidence – two things we in the west normally associate with masculinity.
Neither is a good wife confined to the home. The lesser ‘office wife’ is not one who goes to the office, but one who stays too long there; the sickly wife is one who cannot get up the gumption for a business; the party wife is one who takes without contributing. A good wife can be trusted with the running of her husband’s affairs, the implication here being that she has some understanding of them. Once again, care has economic undertones.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.